Queen Kapiolani – Hawaii’s Philanthropist Queen

(public domain)

Queen Kapiolani was one of Hawaii’s last reigning and beloved queens. Queen Liliuokalani even described her as a woman of “sweet disposition and amiable temper”.[1] She was a woman who was mostly known for her philanthropy and was deeply committed to the health, education, and well-being of the Hawaiian people.[2] Her motto was “Strive for the Highest”.[3] She established the Kapiolani Home for Girls and the Kapiolani Maternity Home. Her lasting legacy was The Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.[4]

Kapiolani was born on 31 December 1834 in Hilo. Her father was Kuhio, the high chief of Hilo, Kinoiki, her mother, was the daughter of Kaumualii (the last king of Kauai before the Hawaiian islands were unified by King Kamehameha).[5] In 1852, Kapiolani came to Honolulu to marry High Chief Bennett Namakeha, one of the uncles of Queen Emma. Because Kapiolani became Queen Emma’s aunt by marriage, she became the nurse to Emma’s son, Albert.[6]

It has been suggested that while Kapiolani was a nurse to Albert, they did not get along because Emma blamed Kapiolani for his untimely death.[7] According to King Kalakaua’s biographer, Helena Allen, Emma “blamed Kapiolani for having ‘allowed the king near her child’ to douse him with cold water and that Kapiolani ‘also took the blame with grief.”[8] However, letters exchanged on 19 March 1863 between Kapiolani and Emma after Albert’s death shows mutual respect. Yet, some historians believe that this may have been evidence of a reconciliation and for Emma to have forgiven Kapiolani, who she believed was responsible for her son’s death.[9]

The letters between them read:

“Seen are the places where your child would walk, bath and tarry. They are too numerous to count. . .  Dear Kaleleokalani (Flight of the Heavenly Chief) . . . you would say. ‘Greetings Kapiolani, my companion sharing the care of your child, wearied from work.’ I did not think tribulation would lie between that caring and this present sorrow. Kaleleokalani, what grief for my chief, who is not far or lost to you. Pity, what pity for my lord, the site of whom grief stirs in me. What pity for my traveling companion about the islands surrounded by the ocean.

God’s mercy is eternal,


Queen Emma replied:

“Dear Kapi’olani, my companion in caring for my son. You were my son’s favorite, your chest must be filled with hurt. You were our third companion in the sun, on the rough a’a lava, in the wind, on the sea, at meals and in hunger. Beloved are the plains, beloved is this place, our seas, everywhere. Oh, my son, my child, alas!


In 1860, Chief Namakeha died, leaving Queen Kapiolani a widow.[12] On 8 December 1863, Kapiolani married Chief David Kalakaua, making her Queen Liliuokalani’s sister-in-law.[13] The marriage took place within a few weeks of King Kamehameha IV’s death. Some people were outraged by the couple’s timing of the marriage because they regarded it as a violation of proper mourning practices.[14]

When King Kamehameha V died in 1874 leaving no one as his successor, there was an election for the next ruler of the Hawaiian islands.[15] The potential successors were David Kalakaua and Queen Emma.[16] The election chose David Kalakaua to be the next king.[17] Queen Emma never got over the disappointment of losing the election.[18] She entered into a bitter feud with Kalakaua and Kapiolani. When King Kalakaua gave Kapiolani “precedence above all other nations” and Emma second, Emma was furious.[19] She did not attend the coronation, but she attended the dinner.[20]

Queen Emma and Queen Kapiolani never got along. On many occasions, Queen Emma was mean to Queen Kapiolani. She would often avoid her and humiliate her in public.[21]

Liliuokalani, being an eyewitness to their relationship, describes the feud between Emma and Kapiolani:

“The sweet disposition and amiable temper of Queen Kapiolani never allowed her to resent in the least the queen dowager’s bitterness, nor would she permit herself to utter one word of reproach against the mother of the child she had herself so dearly loved. In this respect my brother’s wife showed her truly Christian character, and there were occasions when the lack of courtesy on the part of the Queen Emma became something very like insult. For instance, it is the custom with the members of the highest families, the chiefs of the Hawaiian people, at such time as it is known that any one of their rank is ill, to go the house of the chief so indisposed, and remain until recovery is assured, or to be present at the deathbed, if such should be the result. On these occasions, if Queen Emma met Queen Kapiolani, who, of course, from this date became, as my brother’s wife, the lady of the highest rank in our nation, she would studiously avoid recognizing her. Many and many a time did Kalakaua make the effort to bring about a reconciliation between the two ladies; but although Queen Kapiolani would have assented to anything consistent with the dignity of womanhood, Queen Emma would not make the least concession. Even in the very residence of my brother, visiting the palace at the invitation of the king, if the queen were present she avoided recognizing her, and would at times rise and leave when Queen Kapiolani entered, saluting no one but the king as she retired; although this was an outrageous impertinence to the queen under her own roof, it was through Christian charity ignored by its recipient.”[22]

Queen Kapiolani was determined not to let Queen Emma’s grudge get the best of her. She turned her attentions to charity. She organised a clothing collection, and in July 1884, Queen Kapiolani visited the leprosy patients at Kalaupapa, Molokai with Queen Liliuokalani.[23] In 1885, she opened up the Kapiolani Home for Girls, which was for healthy children whose parents were suffering from leprosy.[24] 

In 1887, Queen Kapiolani visited the U.S. and attended Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee.[25] However, when Queen Kapiolani came back from England, she noticed that the Hawaiian monarchy was about to be overthrown. Protestant missionaries and Anglo-Americans had slowly gained power over the islands since the previous century.[26] These men would often complain about taxation. In June 1887, these groups of white soldiers that had volunteered to serve the king staged a seven-day rebellion that resulted in the “Bayonet Constitution.”[27] This constitution expanded the powers of the kingdom’s legislature, which gave more voter qualifications and assured the white businessmen control of the government.[28]

In 1890, Queen Kapiolani raised funds and opened the maternity home for Hawaiian women, which would eventually evolve into The Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.[29] On 25 November 1890, King Kalakaua left for the U.S.[30] He exchanged his last words with his wife and his sister.[31] It was the last time Queen Kapiolani saw her husband alive. On 21 January 1891, his remains were brought back, and Liliuokalani became queen.[32] After the death of her husband, Queen Kapiolani retired to Waikiki.[33] She lived to see the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. Queen Kapiolani died on 24 June 1899 at her home in Waikiki.[34] 

Queen Kapiolani has been mostly known for her charities and her kindness. To this day, there have been hospitals and schools named after her.[35] Through her good deeds, her legacy lives on. She was a Queen who loved her people, especially the poor, sick, abandoned. By learning from Queen Kapiolani’s story, we too can learn to follow her example and “Strive for the Highest.”


Kanahele, George S. Emma: Hawaii’s Remarkable Queen. University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

“Kapiolani (1834–1899).” Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages,

               edited by Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer, vol. 1, Yorkin Publications, 2007, p.


Liliuokalani. Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1898.


Lindley, Susan Hill, and Eleanor J. Stebner. The Westminster Handbook to Women in American

              Religious History. Westminster. John Knox Press, 2008.

Morton, J., & Franco, R. (2004). Social responsibility in twenty-first century Hawaii: Kapiolani as

             engaged campus. Peer Review, 6(2), 28.

Pusey, Allen. “Hawaii’s Monarchy Ends.” ABA Journal, vol. 102, no. 1, 2016, pp. 72.

Volder, Jan de. The Spirit of Father Damien: the Leper Priest–a Saint for Our Time. Ignatius

             Press, 2010.


[1] Liliuokalani, “Ch. 7, Queen Emma” para. 15

[2]  Morton and Franco, Social Responsibility in Twenty-First Century Hawaii: Kapiolani as Engaged Campus p. 28

[3] Morton and Franco, “Social Responsibility in Twenty-First Century Hawaii: Kapiolani as Engaged Campus” p. 29

[4] Lindley, Hill, and Stebner, “Kapiolani” p. 119

[5] “Kapiolani (1834–1899).” p. 1001

[6]  Liliuokalani, “Ch. 7, Queen Emma” para. 14

[7] Kanahele, p. 169

[8] Kanahele, p. 169

[9] Kanahele, p. 169

[10] Kanahele, p. 169

[11] Kanahele, p. 169

[12] Kapiolani (1834–1899).” p. 1001

[13] Kapiolani (1834–1899).” p. 1001

[14] Lindley, Hill, and Stebner “Kapiolani” p. 119

[15] Liliuokalani, “Ch. 7, Queen Emma” para. 1

[16] Liliuokalani, “Ch. 7, Queen Emma” para. 6

[17] Liliuokalani, “Ch. 7, Queen Emma” para. 6

[18] Liliuokalani, “Ch. 7, Queen Emma” para. 14

[19] Kanahele, p. 169

[20] Kanahele, p. 169

[21] Liliuokalani, “Ch. 7, Queen Emma” para. 15

[22] Liliuokalani, “Ch. 7, Queen Emma” para. 15

[23] Volder p. 50

[24] “Kapiolani (1834–1899).” p. 1001

[25] “Kapiolani (1834–1899).” p. 1001

[26] Pusey, “Hawaii’s Monarchy Ends” p. 72

[27] Pusey, “Hawaii’s Monarchy Ends” p. 72

[28] Pusey, “Hawaii’s Monarchy Ends” p. 72

[29] “Kapiolani (1834–1899).” p. 1001

[30] Liliuokalani, “Chapter 33,The King’s Departure- Again Regent” para. 12

[31] Liliuokalani, “Chapter 33, The King’s Departure- Again Regent” para. 15

[32] Liliuokalani, “Chapter 34,The King’s Return- My Ascension” para. 8

[33] “Kapiolani (1834–1899).” p. 1001

[34] “Kapiolani (1834–1899).” p. 1001

[35] Morton and Franco, “Social Responsibility in Twenty-First Century Hawaii: Kapiolani as Engaged Campus” p. 28

About Lauralee Jacks 183 Articles
I am a former elementary teacher in Tennessee. I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from fiction in dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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